Summer 1992, Vol.44 No.2, pp. 161-172
|The scriptures are replete with water images that relate to us stories of creation, conflict, deliverence, repentence, rejection, invitation, healing and praise.|
Mary Margaret Pazdan, OP, is associate professor of biblical studies at Aquinas Institute. This article was originally presented as part of “The Waters That Unite: A Day-Long Immersion in the Symbol of Water,” a seminar held at The Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows, Belleville, Illinois, February 15, 1992.
WATER stories thunder and stream and trickle and spring and flow in the mysterious presence of God in the cosmos and among human beings whose water prayers praise and plead and bless and lament to God. In the first moment of creation God’s spirit hovered over the waters (Gen 1:2). In the last moment of creation the Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” Let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty, come; and the one who wants it receive the gift of life-giving water (Rev 22:17).
In the cosmos the voice of God is over the waters, the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over vast waters (Ps 29:3). When a voice addresses Job out of the storm, we hear:
And who shut within doors the sea, when it burst forth from the womb;
When I made the clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling bands?
When I set limits for it
and fastened the bar of its door,
And said: Thus far shall you come
but no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stilled!
. . . Have you entered into the sources of the sea,
or walked about in the depths of the abyss?
. . . Have you entered the storehouse of the snow,
and seen the treasury of the hail . . . ?
Who has laid out a channel for the downpour
and for the thunderstorm a path
To bring rain to no one’s land,
the unpeopled wilderness;
To enrich the waste and desolate ground
till the desert blooms with verdure?
Has the rain a father;
or who has begotten the drops of dew?
Out of whose womb comes the ice,
and who gives the hoarfrost its birth in the skies
When the waters lie covered as though with stone
that holds captive the surface of the deep?
Can you raise your voice among the clouds,
or veil yourself in the waters of the storm?
Can you send forth the lightnings
on their way,
or will they say to you,
“Here we are?” (Job 38:8-10, 16, 22, 25-30, 34-35)
Gazing fondly at Leviathan, God continues:
Can you lead about Leviathan with a hook, or curb his tongue with a bit?
Can you put a rope into his nose?
. . . Can you play with him, as with a bird?
Can you put him in leash for your maidens? . . .
Can you fill his hide with barbs,
or his head with fish spears?
Once you but lay a hand upon him,
no need to recall any other conflict!
. . . His heart is hard as stone;
his flesh, as the lower millstone.
When he rises up, the mighty are afraid;
the waves of the sea fall back.
Should the sword reach him, it will not avail;
nor will the spear, nor the dart, nor the javelin . . . .
He makes the depths boil like a pot;
the sea he churns like perfume in a kettle .
. . . Upon the earth there is not his like,
intrepid was he made. (Job 40: 25- 32; 41:15-18, 23, 25)
You dolphins arid all water creatures, bless the Lord (Dan 3:70a).
WHILE fearsome Leviathan lurks and frolics in the abyss, God addresses Israel:
I will fall like dew on Israel; she shall bloom like the lily,
and thrust out roots like the poplar;
her shoots will spread far;
and she will have the beauty of the olive,
and the fragrance of Lebanon ….
I am like a verdant cypress tree,
because of me you bear fruit. (Hos 14:6-7, 9)
Now Hosea indicts that community: What shall I do with you Ephraim?
This love of yours is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that quickly disappears. (Hos 6:4).
Torrents and trickles bless the Lord!
In the desert even the caress of dew falters. Hands which now grasped walking sticks and bundles still felt heavy iron shackles. Tongues which had tasted years of meat and bread were dry inside parched throats. Glazed eyes and swollen feet could barely recall the dancing and singing on the shore of the Reed Sea. Ears only held the echoes of the silvery sound of Miriam’s tambourine and phrases of her song: I will sing to the Lord, for he is gloriously triumphant;
horse and chariot he has cast into the sea.
Pharaoh’s chariots and army he hurled into the sea . . .
The flood waters covered them,
they sank into the depths like a stone . . . .
At the breath of your anger the waters piled up,
the flowing waters stood like a mound,
the flood waters congealed in the midst of the sea . . . .
When your wind blew, the sea covered them;
like lead they sank in the mighty waters. (Exod 15:1,4a, 5, 8, 10)
With Pharaoh and his army, we cry: The breakers of death surged round about me,
the destroying floods overwhelmed me;
The cords of the nether world enmeshed me,
the snare of death overtook me.
In my distress I called upon the Lord
and cried out to my God. (Ps 18:5, 6, 7a).
At Meribah the Israelites complained to Moses: “There is no water!”
Moses heard their grumbling: “Why did you force us to leave Egypt?
Was the only reason just to have us die here of thirst,
we and our children and livestock?” (Exod 17:1-3)
Moses cried out to God and God quickly replied: Take some elders with you and go out in front of the people. Be sure to take your staff along. You remember the staff you had in Egypt, Moses, the one that turned into a snake. That day you and Aaron went to the river bank and he struck the waters while the Pharaoh watched. And all the waters of Egypt — streams and pools and canals and all water supplies turned to blood. There was even blood in the wooden pails and water jars (Exod 7:19). But now, quickly, Moses, go out in front of the people. I will be standing right here with you. Strike the rock, and the water will flow from it so the people and their children and their livestock can drink. Moses struck the rock and water gushed forth (Exod 17:5-6). Oh, Israel how I would feed you with the best of wheat, and with honey from the rock I would fill you (Ps 81:17).
A SOLDIER THRUST HIS LANCE INTO JESUS’ SIDE AND IMMEDIATELY BLOOD AND WATER FLOWED OUT (JOHN 19:37-38).
WITH JESUS WE CRY OUT: I am like water poured out;
all my bones are racked.
My heart has become like wax
melting away within my bosom. (Ps 22:15)
Setting out toward the Reed Sea, the people complained again: Moses, why have you brought
us out of Egypt to die
in this desert?
There is no food
or water here. (Num 21:5)
Our ancestors were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea and all of them were baptized into Moses into the cloud, and in the sea and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was the Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert. (I Cor 10:1b-5). Rocks and clouds, bless the Lord, praise and exalt God forever!
SERPENTS bit the people. Moses made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole. Whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent, looked upon the bronze serpent, that one recovered (Num 21:6-9). “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14). At the foot of the cross, we listen to Jesus:
They have pierced my hands and my feet; I can count all my bones.
They look on and gloat over me. (Ps 22:17c-18)
In the wilderness of our lives, we pray: Deliver us, O Lord, from our bondage
as torrents in dry land (Ps 126:4).
My throat is dried up like baked clay,
my tongue cleaves to my jaws;
to the dust you have brought me down (Ps 22:16).
O God, you are my God whom I seek;
for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts
like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water (Ps 63:2).
In these moments Isaiah’s promise is like a mirage: God will guide you always
and give you plenty even on the parched land.
God will renew your strength,
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring whose water never fails. (Isa 58:11)
Jesus said, “I thirst.” They gave him a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and reached up to his mouth (John 19: 28b29). In the desert Reuben convinced his brothers not to shed blood. They threw Joseph into a cistern which was empty and dry. Later they sold him to a caravan of Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver (Gen 37:21-28).
One day a woman came to draw water.
Jesus said to her,
“Give me a drink.”
“How can you ask me for a drink?”
“If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you,
‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him
and he would have given you living water.”
The woman said,
“Sir, you do not even have a wooden pail and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?”
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again;
but whoever drinks the water I shall give
will never thirst; the water I shall give
will become in that person a spring of water welling up to
The woman said,
“Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water” (John 4:7-15).
In our constant thirst, we pray:
Lord, give us this water.
Cisterns and water jugs, bless the Lord!
ON the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood up and exclaimed, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture says: ‘Rivers of living water will flow within him’ ” (John 7:37-38). “Go and wash seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will heal and you will be clean.” Namaan the Syrian commander read Elisha’s message again. He muttered angrily: I thought that he would surely come out and stand there to pray to his God. And then he would extend his hand over the spot and cure the leprosy. Surely our rivers, the Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, are far better than all the waters of Israel! Why couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed? Namaan turned on his heel from Elisha’s house. But his servants pleaded with him. “If the prophet told you to do something extraordinary, wouldn’t you have done it? Can’t you follow his message since he made a simple request: ‘Wash and be clean’?” Namaan went down to the Jordan and plunged into it seven times . . . . His flesh became like the flesh of a little child.
Jesus said, “Amen, Amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus asked, “How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?” Jesus answered, “Amen, amen I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit” (John 3:3-5). Returning with his company and all his treasures, Namaan stood before Elisha. “Now I know there is no God in all the earth except in Israel. Please accept a gift from your servant.” Elisha replied, “As the Lord lives whom I serve, I will not take it” (2 Kgs 5:10-151.
“Go and wash in the Pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). He went and washed, and came back able to see. The Pharisees were getting impatient. They had considered so many cases.
Now why was he here?
They asked him,
“What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”
“I told you already and you did not even listen.
Why do you want to hear my testimony again?
Do you want to become his disciples, too?”
They scoffed at him,
“You are that man’s disciple; we are disciples of Moses!
We know that God spoke to Moses,
but we do not know where this one is from.” . . .
The man said to them,
“It is unheard of that anyone ever
opened the eyes of a person born blind.
If this man were not from God,
he would not be able to do anything.”
(John 9:7, 26-27, 32-33)
In Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate there is a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda with five porticoes where a large number of ill, blind, lame and crippled lay. One man there had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there . . .
he said to him,
“Do you want to be well?”
The sick man answered him,
“Sir, I have no one to put me in the pool
when the water is stirred up;
while I am on my way,
someone else gets down there before me.”
Jesus said to him,
“Rise, take up your mat, and walk.”
Immediately, the man became well, took up his mat and walked.
In our need for healing, we pray:
Cleanse me of sin with hyssop that I may be purified.
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow . . .
A clean heart create for me, O God, and
a steadfast spirit renew within me (Ps 51:9, 12).
You springs, bless the Lord; praise and exalt God forever.
Seas and rivers, bless the Lord; praise: and exalt God forever (Dan 3:77-78).
PILATE had a troubled sleep again. His wife’s dreams disturbed him. The crowd on this feast day was getting restless. The chief priests and elders had walked among them convincingly arguing Barabbas’ release.
Pilate sent for a water jug and a basin. Washing his hands in front of the jostling crowd he declared,
“I am innocent of this man’s blood. Look to it yourselves.”
“His blood be upon us and upon our children.” (Matt 27:24-25)
Now no one remembered Judas’ statement to the chief priests and elders:
“I have betrayed innocent blood. I have sinned.”
“Why is that our concern? Look to it yourself.” (Matt 27:4)
Jesus rose from the supper and took a towel to tie around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist.
He came to Simon Peter,
“Master, you’re not going to wash my feet!”
“What I am doing for you now, Peter, you do not understand. Later, it will become clear.”
“You will never wash my feet!”
“Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.”
“Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.” (John 13:4-9, 12b)
. . . “Do you realize what I have done for you? . . . I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” (John 13:15)
Then the righteous will say, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?” And the king will say, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt 25:37-40).
To be faithful followers, we pray:
Cleanse us . . . give us a new heart and
put your spirit within us (Ezek 36:25b, 26a, 27a).
Servants of the Lord, bless the Lord; praise and exalt God forever (Dan 3:85).
Now, return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning.
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the Lord, your God. (Joel 2:12-13)
When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you. (Matt 6:18)
Why do we fast, and you do not see it?
afflict ourselves, and you take no note of it?
On your fast day you carry out your own pursuits . . . .
Your fast ends in quarreling and fighting . . . .
You bow your head like a reed,
and lie in sackcloth and ashes . . . .
This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
release those bound unjustly . . .
Setting free the oppressed and the homeless;
clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own. (Is 58:3-7)
On our journey, we pray:
Provident God, guide us,
give us plenty even on the parched land.
Renew our strength and make us like watered gardens,
like springs whose waters never fail. (Isa 58:11-12)
After this I had a vision of a great multitude which no one could count from any nation, race, people and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb wearing white robes and carrying palm branches in their hands . . . . One of the elders said to me, “These are the people who have been through the great persecution, and because they have washed their robes white again in the blood of the Lamb, they now stand in front of God’s throne to serve day and night in the sanctuary . . . . They will never hunger nor thirst again, neither the sun or the scorching wind will ever plague them, because the Lamb who is at the throne will be their shepherd and will lead them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away all tears from their eyes” (Rev 7:9, 14-17).
Spirits arid souls of the just bless the Lord,
praise and exalt God above all forever (Dan 3:86).
THE Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” Let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty, come; and the one who wants it receive the gift of life-giving water (Rev 22:17).